Passendale death toll greater than previously believed

Research by the In Flanders Fields Museum has revealed that the number of soldiers killed at the Third Battle of Ieper, also known as the Battle of Passendale, is much higher than had been believed. While up until now most historians have spoken of between 350,000 and 400,000 fatalities, researchers at the museum now say that at least 600,000 Allied and Germans soldiers perished during the battle in the latter half of 1917.

It may appear strange to some that a century after the Battle of Passendale there is still no official death toll.

While there is near certainty about the number of allied fatalities. It is a very different story regarding the number of German troops that were killed in the battle.

There is no overall list of German fatalities. On the German side lists of those killed and missing in action only exist at regimental level.

Some German regiments have published the names of those killed and missing. However, researchers need to wade through the Germany Army archives in order to learn how many troops were killed or listed as missing in the regiments that didn’t compiled lists.

This work is hampered by the fact that some of the German Army’s archive was destroyed during World War II. A definitive figure for German fatalities will always remain an estimate.


A team of volunteers that worked on the compilation of lists of those that were killed on the WWI battlefields of West Flanders is currently pooling the data from the various German regiments.

Up until now, they have counted 557,300 German fatalities between June and December 1917. It is more or less certain that this figure will rise to between 600,000 and 650,000.

With the 110,518 Allied fatalities and the 1,182 civilians killed this would bring the total number of fatalities during the second half of 1917 to over 700,000.

Only taking into account the period between 31 July and 12 November (the duration of the Third Battle of Ieper according to British military historians) Flanders Fields arrives at a figure of over 600,000 fatalities.

This is far more than the 350,000 to 400,000 people that had previously believed to have been killed in battle.

The selective memory of military historians

Official British Military historians say that the Third Battle of Ieper started on 31 July. However, it actually began at the same time as the Battle of Messines in early June.

The British say that the Third Battle of Ieper ended on 12 November. However, the Germans says that what they call the “Dritte Flandernschlacht” (the Third Battle of Flanders) went on until the end of 1917.

Flanders Fields’ figures confirm this as there were a further 15,000 fatalities between 12 November and the end of 1917.

The British forces attacked again several times, but without success and unsuccessful attacks were not give a name. This approach gives a distorted image of the Third Battle of Ieper.

For example, in the latter stage of the battle historians concentrate almost entirely on the activities of the Canadian Army that eventually was able to capture Passendale.

The Canadian Army suffered 4,565 fatalities. However, in the same period the British Army lost 6,369 troops.

While the Canadians advanced towards Passendale, the British tried to drive the Germans from their positions on the ridge at Geluveld to the south and west.

However, little if any attention is paid to this operation by British military historians.

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